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  • Writer's pictureJen Kapral

Three Quick Worldbuilding Tips (and one secret trick)

Just how high are those dunes? And what’s the average daily temperature?

Worldbuilding is fun, and the reason why many of us are speculative fiction writers. Dreaming of faraway planets, vibrant cultures, and lush landscapes is a great escape for us, and we aspire to provide that same escape for our readers.

Yet, many writers get lost in the worldbuilding. They spend all their time examining the fauna and flora of Solaroom, losing sight of their characters and plot. They stay in the gardens and never finish their stories or novels.

I have become quite efficient in worldbuilding over the last few years, due to devoting time to writing flash fiction and short fiction. My first pro sale to Fireside was a 750-word story set on Mars. It had pages and pages of worldbuilding that never made it to the final piece. But those words were not wasted; the worldbuilding helped make sure every little detail packed a punch.

I tend to write the beginnings of a novel during NaNoWriMo, then return to it intermittently in the following months, then again abandon it again for other projects. I have way too many worlds hiding in my desktop folders; mages, elves, paratroopers, aliens, diplomats, warriors. This murky ground is where many writers get lost, bogged down by the messy middles of projects and details of the world, not letting characters and plot guide the way. After racking up fully-completed short stories, I’m now on the verge of finishing a full draft of the first novel in my sci fi series. Here are three tips I learned along the way:

1) Just Start Writing

Let your characters guide your writing. They’ll let you know what their values are, what’s important to them, what they love and hate. Mannerisms and speech patterns will start emerging. They’ll get messy with each other, fighting and falling in love. They’ll show you the most important things you need to know about their worlds.

Whether you want to outline your story first or not doesn’t matter; you’ve got to start getting the words on the page and building on it each day or week. By starting with your characters, everything centers on them. You don’t need detailed descriptions of the most coveted and beautiful flower on all of Solaroom to start writing.

2) Mark Along the Way

It can be easy to get stuck when your character references a historic treaty you haven’t fully thought out yet (When and where did they sign that? What was the societal and economic impact? How do different generations feel about it?). Suddenly, it’s hours later and you have a deep dive into this treaty- and you’re still on Chapter 3.  And it turns out, seven chapters later, the treaty isn’t actually that important. Or needs to be rethought entirely.

Instead of practicing what signatures looked like on that treaty, highlight the reference to the treaty and any other political elements you need to work out. Leave a comment where you need to expand on the evolution of elven weaponry. If you want to go nuts, develop a color-coding system for layers of revision, a different color for each character or species. But most importantly, keep going. Those details come later.

3) Try Worldbuilding Sprints

I recently took part in the World Anvil Summer Camp Worldbuilding Challenge, completing 33 worldbuilding prompts during the month of July. The prompts were creative and helped me figure out different elements of my story. But they must be used with caution.

I used the prompts to create sprints. I set a 10-minute timer and 300 word-count goal for any prompt. I would do one as a writing warm-up or as something to mull over before turning in for the night. These sprints helped fuel some of my writing but were never the goal of the day. My goal was always to get more words on the page of my novel and push through the first draft.

As I’m nearing the finish line on the first draft of this novel, I’m already eager to dive into revision. That’s the one secret trick- the magic of worldbuilding is in revision. On your second or fifth draft, you can get lost in the gardens of Solaroom (they ARE beautiful) or develop elaborate political timelines, but all with focus and clarity because you know your characters and story.

What are your world building tricks? Drop them in the comments below!

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